“Captain Cool” was at it again at the WACA; MS Dhoni doing what he does best, captaining an ODI side aggressively and guiding India to victory with the bat.
In a short space of time, India has gone from being a team staggering towards a quarter-final exit, to a side sprinting to the finish line, with back-to-back World Cup victories beckoning.
If that glorious finale were to eventuate, Dhoni would join Clive Lloyd and Ricky Ponting as the only World Cup captains to achieve that extremely difficult feat. Dhoni’s would be the greater achievement because his success has come with less talented bowling attacks than the previous two skippers.
A big part of India’s turnaround from a bunch of straggling individuals to an aggressive and consistent combination, has to do with Dhoni’s leadership. In the Test series against Australia, Dhoni performed like a bear hibernating in winter. However, the advent of the World Cup has turned him into a giant grizzly ready to pounce on opponents as though they’re salmon heading upstream.
Dhoni has a couple of admirable attributes as an ODI leader; the players believe in him and he remains as calm as light air. So many times he’s carried India home to victory by keeping his head and hitting judicially that the team believe Dhoni can indeed perform miracles.
MS Dhoni. Pic/Getty Images
It also doesn’t hurt that in the last World Cup final he played an innings of great importance after thrusting himself into the firing line. This was the type of mentally strong performance that engenders great loyalty and inspires players to give everything they’ve got for the captain.
This positive action is a hard-to-fathom contrast to some of his Test captaincy. He often appears to be hibernating when dressed in whites and some of his “captain’s pick” selections are without logic. He then exacerbates those selections with his strange use of those choices during the contest.
Consequently, his away Test record in recent times resembles a hibernating bear’s larder — empty.
Then, when the World Cup spotlight shines, he’s galvanised into action. His aggressive captaincy is not surprising; brother Greg said when he first came into the Indian side, Dhoni was acutely aware of what was going on and what needed to be done. Greg explained: “If I wanted to know how things were on the field, I sought out MS.”
What is harder to fathom is his frustrating periods of inertia as a Test captain. The fact that he’s now retired from the job suggests the workload may have worn him down.
Dhoni’s vibrant leadership at World tournaments is probably best explained by an Indian journalist workmate. “In talking with Dhoni,” he explained, “I’ve noticed he’s acutely aware of his commercial image.”
There’s no surer way to become a fan favourite in India than to lead the team to a major trophy. The 1983 World Cup-winning side is still eulogised after changing India’s perception of one-day cricket by unexpectedly clinching the trophy with an upset win over the powerful West Indies. The 2015 version of the West Indies is far from powerful but they at least put up a fight against India. This was a contest that a less committed India could easily have lost; a match played on a surface that suited fast bowlers and tested batsmen against the short-pitched delivery.
Pragmatic win vs WI
It would be incorrect to say that India passed with flying colours; the bowlers performed brilliantly but the batsmen were far less convincing. Nevertheless, they won and are now on track to top Pool B, which should bring a relatively cushy quarter-final against a hapless England.
The win at the WACA had Dhoni written all over it. He not only guided the team home with the bat but it was also a pragmatic win: “let’s just get the two points any way we can and then we don’t have to deal with the WACA anymore.”
That sums up Dhoni as an ODI captain; aggressive, inspirational and pragmatic. The salmon better beware.